AT&T, T-Mobile And Verizon Vow To Stop Selling Location Data 01/14/2019

Bounty hunters can find you using your location data for a fee of a couple hundred dollars

In the wake of a bombshell report detailing how carriers like Sprint and T-Mobile sell real-time location data of subscribers to third-parties, both of the aforementioned carriers have since come out and said that they will stop the practice immediately.

"In light of recent reports about the misuse of location services, we have made a decision to eliminate all location aggregation services-even those with clear consumer benefits", an AT&T spokesman told PCMag.

AT&T and T-Mobile are suspending their sales of customer data to third-parties, following a Motherboard investigation that revealed how such sales trickle down to potentially unsafe consequences. These carriers, and Verizon, sell this data to firms called location aggregators, who then turn around and sell it to other companies. We're doing it the right way to avoid impacting consumers who use these types of services for things like emergency assistance.

Verizon also reportedly said it will stop sharing users' locations; the company now has agreements with roadside assistance services.

"Wireless carriers are promising, yet again, to stop sharing Americans' location data without their consent".

Earlier this week, after U.S. wireless carriers were put on blast for selling their users' location data without consent, the industry promptly promised to bring the practice to an end. "I think there should be a federal law that respects California and other state laws but adds to them and creates financial penalties for when companies violate your trust and sell your information against your will".

Verizon was not among the carriers flagged in Motherboard's report.

However, without these rules, the broadband providers are not incentivized to change anything despite their aloof public ideals of prioritizing consumer data privacy - even with Securus past year and Motherboard's exposé about MicroBilt a few days ago, a representative of T-Mobile's response was that it is only "nearly finished the process of terminating its agreements with location aggregators". "We have previously stated that we are terminating the agreements we have with third party data aggregators and we are almost finished with that process".

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who has criticized the privacy practices of Facebook and other companies that collect massive quantities of user data, said the report highlights how customers and policymakers "have been kept in the dark" about the ways personal information is gathered, repackaged and sold.

"Sadly, most of us assume not only that what we deliberately put on the Internet will fall into unauthorized hands but that data generated by our devices, services and even our human networks will be utilized in various ways we haven't authorized".

The commission's senior Democrat, Jessica Rosenworcel, concurs.

"It shouldn't be that you pay a few hundred dollars to a bounty hunter and then they can tell you in real time where a phone is within a few hundred meters", Rosenworcel then wrote on Wednesday. They also need to educate users on their rights when it comes to data. Following the reports, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent letters to the four major carriers demanding more information about the practices. Congress should act on passing comprehensive legislation and empowering specialized agencies like the FCC.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai hasn't offered any comment. It would at least allow the Commission to investigate the matter with MicroBilt, but with the current government shutdown, unfortunately there is not much that can be done at the very moment - and there's no guarantee this FCC would do that anyway.